Maura Judkis, The Washington Post
NEW YORK - Antoni Porowski is standing in his beautiful Manhattan apartment kitchen shredding cheese, and more cheese, and even more cheese, and for many people, at least one part of this sentence is a fantasy. There's the heaps of Gruyere and sharp cheddar and cream cheese, the jeans and white socks and perfectly slicked hair, the Yves Klein blue stove and marble countertop and copper pots. Take your pick.
"We're having cheese for breakfast," he says because it is 8 a.m. "Gooey, crispy little gratin cheese."
Specifically, the "Queer Eye" star is making Cheesy Lemon-Rosemary Artichoke Dip, a recipe from his new cookbook, "Antoni in the Kitchen." It's a recipe he selected, not only because it brought back warm memories of cooking with his sister, but because it evokes his favourite time of year.
"I'm ready for the fall," he says, grating some off-recipe Parmesan ("a beautiful two-year") into the mix, just for fun. "Oh my gosh, a tiny piece of cheese literally shot into my mouth," he says, delighted. When he totals it up, there are 24 ounces of cheese altogether.
It seemed like an odd recipe to pick, considering there are more complex options in the book - recipes that showcase stronger flavours, or a piece of Porowski's Polish heritage. But it doesn't take long to realize: Antoni Porowski is cheese dip. He's decadent but unfussy, he's comforting, he's nostalgic, and he's easy-going but intense under the surface, once you dig in there with a little piece of endive and scrape out all of those soft, gooey bits.
The question isn't whether Porowski can cook, which was a persistent hot take in 2018. His recipes for the heroes, as "Queer Eye" calls its makeover candidates, were judged for being overly simplistic, forcing Porowski to spend months reiterating that he was tailoring them for his subjects, who might only be able to manage a simple avocado grapefruit salad because they barely knew how to use their ovens.
The question is what kind of cooking Antoni has decided to showcase after that criticism exacerbated his already bad case of impostor syndrome. At first, he had the natural impulse to prove his sceptics wrong.
"When I came into Season 3, the first two recipes, I tried to way overcomplicate them," he says. At the same time, he was a partner in a restaurant, the Village Den, and he saw that as another proving ground. "It was sort of like, this is how I'm going to show people. But once I got my butt into the kitchen and started testing it out, that thought went away quickly because it was sort of like, holy s-, I'm opening a restaurant."
The book project began the same way, almost as a rebuke: See? Antoni can make macadamia-crusted lamb with spicy honey agrodolce! And strawberry and pink peppercorn Eton mess! And after all of those memes about his guacamole, there is not a single avocado-centric recipe in it.
But eventually, "I realized this isn't about that," Porowski says. "The best feedback that I've gotten on 'Queer Eye' is when things are deeply personal. I think we really have a need to see vulnerability these days."
It turned into something different. It became an autobiography.
"It's a deeply sentimental book that also shows that he has real chops," said Beth Barden, a Kansas City restaurateur who helped Porowski test his recipes. "To me, it's a really beautiful version of a memoir."
Porowski was born in Montreal to a family that emigrated from Poland. He grew up speaking Polish at home, and his heritage is reflected in the book, with dishes such as zurek ("the Polish hangover soup"), chilled beet soup and Bigos, a rich and hearty three-meat hunter's stew with mushrooms, cabbage and prunes. Porowski's version subs wine for beer, to add a little French influence.
"Every household has a different way of doing it," Porowski says. "I'm not 100% sure how my mother made it. But one thing that she did teach me was wild mushrooms. We would go foraging during mushroom season as kids."
Porowski isn't sure how his mother made the dish because, as he says in the book's intro, he never cooked with her. And if you read between the lines of that little aside - and the others peppered throughout the book - you'll see pain and loss creeping in at the corners of many of his recipes.
Despite his fame, he still hasn't cooked with his mother, because they no longer have a relationship. When he writes about cooking "Martha Stewart Living" recipes as a teenager with his sister, Aleks, he says they "didn't get along very well," and that cooking was the common passion that bound them together. Many recipes mention happy times with Joey Krietemeyer, Porowski's former partner of seven years, whose family gatherings provided him with a sense of togetherness he hadn't found in his own.
"I sort of had this debate about, well, do I want to include them or not? I just decided, like, even though it's really painful to write about, it's very happy-sad," he says of Krietemeyer's family. "I had a family that taught me unconditional love, and I just thought it just didn't feel right not including them. So, I decided, like, that's painful, but you can struggle through it and put the sadness in another compartment, and I can deal with that later in life. Let's do this recipe in honour of these people who were there for me."
The book will show you who Porowski has loved, but also what he has loved to make for them.
"Food, for him, I think more than anything, is a love language," Barden said. "It's the true way that he expresses himself to the people he cares for. I think he sees himself as being in the service of others."
On "Queer Eye," that might mean teaching a single dad how to make pancakes, or a dishevelled app bro to master grilled cheese. But only a few Queer Eye recipes - or references to the show, really - appear in the book, though there are nods to his castmates' favourite recipes.
"If it was just recipes from the show, people have seen them already," said his co-author, Mindy Fox. "You get a little window into Antoni's life and his progression with food as a medium for his creativity and his passion."
His life: Newly single after a breakup with Bravo star Trace Lehnhoff. A new art collector eager to show visitors his acquisitions, including a jokey Flemish Baroque portrait of the Fab Five in a gilded frame - a gift from "Saturday Night Live's" Kate McKinnon. His fridge contains oat milk, cold brew, lingonberry jam and some carrots that have seen better days - probably because he's not home much, now that the show is filming its fifth season in Philadelphia. Though he's known for his obsession with dogs, he doesn't own one. (The dog photographed with him in the cookbook belongs to the actor Justin Theroux, a friend.) He's working his way through "Fleabag." He dreams in both French and English. He knows he shouldn't, but he Juuls (mint, in case you were wondering).
Later in the day, we sit in a corner booth at his West Village restaurant, the Village Den, while guests not-so-subtly take photos of him. Though Porowski doesn't work in the kitchen, he is responsible for the menu and pays attention to details: As soon as we arrived, he went back into the kitchen to check on a pineapple chutney that was not up to his standards.
The pineapple was "being cut into very large pieces. And it came to my attention via people posting on Instagram, 'cause that's how I check when I'm out of town," he says. It's an accompaniment to some jerk chicken meatballs at the fast-casual health cafe with a comfort food bent.
Though he spent years as a server, going back into the kitchen of his own restaurant still feels awkward.
"I would apologize for going back, and I would ask for permission," he says. He suspects he "didn't want to accept the fact that it was mine."
But his impostor syndrome is gradually subsiding. A stand-alone food show is something he has been "actively discussing," and a second location of his restaurant is in the works.
"A lot of facets of my life, I thought, like, I'm not a chef and no one's going to take me seriously," he says. But with the book, he realized that not being a chef gave him freedom for "more of an emotional exploration," one that allows for simple, nostalgic weekday recipes. "My book is about my personal experience and these dishes that have shaped me. And I put them in there because they're important," he says.
That includes his experience as an immigrant. Now that he is a permanent resident of the United States, Porowski finds his nationality gets truncated: Rather than Polish Canadian, he is mistaken for Canadian American, which feels strange to him. Immigration and the blend of cultures and flavours he was exposed to in Montreal is key to the book. It's also a point of personal reflection for him - just as his fluid sexuality allowed him to be mistaken for straight for much of his life and evade homophobia, his whiteness and unaccented English gives him privileges other immigrants don't share.
"This country has given me a life that I never even really dreamed of," he says. "So, I feel like I compensate whenever I . . . have the opportunity to talk about diversity."
That appears in the recipes, which include Indian, Malaysian, Greek, Mexican and Japanese, and in upcoming seasons of the show, for which he says the immigrant experience will become more of a talking point.
For both, "the goal is really to bridge people together," he says. "Yeah, I know, that sounds like such a 'Queer Eye' line."
Cheesy Lemon-Rosemary Artichoke Dip
Active: 10 minutes | Total: 40 minutes
8 servings (makes 4 cups)
This decadent and flavourful dip is a perfect way to kick off your party. For the best flavour and texture, Antoni Porowski recommends oil-marinated artichokes (instead of water-packed ones) sold in a jar or at your grocery store salad bar.
3 (6 1/2 -ounce) jars marinated artichokes, drained, coarsely chopped or quartered
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
6 ounces Gruyere, grated (1 1/2 cups)
4 ounces aged sharp white cheddar (such as Cabot clothbound), grated (1 cup)
1 cup (8 ounces) full-fat sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Toasted baguette slices, crudites, and/or your favourite crackers or chips, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine the artichokes, cream cheese, Gruyere, cheddar, sour cream, lemon juice, rosemary and black pepper and stir until smooth. Transfer to an 8-inch square baking dish, a 7- to 8-inch ovenproof skillet or a 2-quart gratin dish.
Bake (middle rack), 22 to 25 minutes, until the dip is bubbly and light golden brown on top. Let cool for 7 to 10 minutes before serving.
Serve with toasted baguette slices, crudites and/or crackers or chips.
Nutrition | Calories: 380; Total Fat: 32 g; Saturated Fat: 16 g; Cholesterol: 85 mg; Sodium: 410 mg; Carbohydrates: 10 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugars: 2 g; Protein: 15 g.
(Adapted from: "Antoni in the Kitchen" by Antoni Porowski with Mindy Fox.)
New-Style Polish Hunter’s Stew (Bigos Revisited)
Active: 45 minutes | Total: 2 hours
6 to 8 servings
Smoky and flavourful, this is a stew you'll want to keep on hand when the colder weather hits. If you can't easily find kabanos (a type of Polish sausage), you can swap in more kielbasa. When thinking about what wine to add, find an inexpensive bottle that you wouldn't mind drinking.
Serve with rye bread and butter.
Storage: The stew can be stored, covered and refrigerated, for up to 5 days.
Where to buy: Kabanos, a smoked and air-dried Polish sausage, can be purchased at Eastern European grocery stores.
1 cup (1 ounce) dried porcini or other mixed wild mushrooms
2 cups hot water
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch wide pieces
1-pound kielbasa, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1-pound Polish kabanos or other smoky dried pork sausage, cut into 1-inch thick slices, or an extra 8 ounces kielbasa
1-pound boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
One (1-pound) green cabbage, or savoy cabbages halved, cored and cut crosswise into 1-inch wide strips
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 (32-ounce) jar sauerkraut, drained (4 cups)
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh marjoram (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried)
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
4 cups low-sodium beef broth
2 cups dry red wine
3/4 cup pitted prunes (5 ounces), halved
Fresh dill fronds, for garnish
In a small bowl, soak the dried mushrooms in the 2 cups of hot water.
Meanwhile, in a large Dutch over or another wide, heavy pot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon, stirring, until golden and crispy, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a large plate. Add the kielbasa and kabanos, if using, to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the slices are browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the sausage to the plate with the bacon. Add the pork loin to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 6 minutes. Transfer the pork to the plate with the bacon and sausages.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion to the fat in the pot; cook until softened slightly, about 3 minutes. Add the cabbage and cook until the vegetables, 6 to 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, lift the mushrooms from the soaking liquid and transfer to a plate. Reserve 1 cup of the liquid.
Stir 1/2 teaspoon of salt into the cabbage mixture, then add the sauerkraut. Make a well in the centre of the pot, add the bay leaves, marjoram, allspice, drained mushrooms and meat mixture and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the beef broth, wine, prunes and reserved mushroom broth and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the stew is at a gentle simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, getting into the edges of the pot with the spoon, for 30 minutes.
Uncover and continue to cook until the liquid has reduced and thickened, about 45 minutes more.
Remove and discard the bay leaves. Garnish with the dill and serve hot.
Nutrition (based on 8 servings) | Calories: 530; Total Fat: 30 g; Saturated Fat: 11 g; Cholesterol: 130 mg; Sodium: 1690 mg; Carbohydrates: 22 g; Dietary Fiber: 6 g; Sugars: 9 g; Protein: 33 g.
(Adapted from: "Antoni in the Kitchen" by Antoni Porowski with Mindy Fox.)